The restaurant industry faced the wrath of COVID-19 in 2020. The industry, well known for its paper-thin profit margins and majority independent owners, was projected to lose $240 billion for the entire year, according to the National Restaurant Association. From curbside pickup and outdoor heaters to QR code menus and contactless payment systems, the pandemic has forced restaurants to be extremely nimble in their operations, continually evolving to meet customer needs in times of crisis.
To measure consumer sentiment around eating out during a pandemic as well as gauge openness to new restaurant business practices, SimpleTexting asked diners around the U.S. to share their opinions. We surveyed 1,000 American consumers to find out:
Additionally, we analyzed data from Open Table’s State of the Restaurant Industry report, to learn the striking impact that COVID has had on restaurants this past year. We looked at the year-over-year change of seated diners at restaurants both nationwide and by state over a nine to ten-month time period. We’ve mapped out the data within the charts below to show which months have hit the industry the hardest as well as which U.S. regions have seen the largest and smallest drops in seated diners due to COVID.
Read on to see the full results of the survey and the data study.
According to survey results, almost 70% of diners are likely to eat at an outdoor table right now and 62% of diners are likely to eat at an indoor table right now. Both findings are in reference to restaurants that are strictly following CDC guidelines and safety precautions. So while it seems that the majority of Americans are comfortable with eating out overall, age certainly plays a role. 25% of baby boomers and 21% of Gen X diners aren’t eating out at restaurants at all right now. Those that are, say that they’re eating out once per month at most.
Curbside pickup is universal at this point, becoming a necessary medium for restaurants to stay afloat during a pandemic. The largest percentage of diners surveyed, 37%, say that they’re most likely to patronize restaurants through curbside pick up right now and 64% of diners are ordering curbside pickup once per week or more.
Ownership status and size of a restaurant also have an impact on a diner’s likeliness to eat out. 23% more diners are willing to eat at a locally-owned and operated restaurant than a chain restaurant right now, according to survey results. Many are striving to support the small businesses that add character to their communities during a crisis of this magnitude. What’s more, restaurant relief funds continue to pop up around the U.S., offering financial support to local restaurants and their employees.
Another way diners are offering support to restaurant employees is through generous tips. 16% more diners are tipping their servers 25% or more during the pandemic than before the pandemic. Restaurants nationwide, however, are increasing hourly wages for their employees to offset the effects of fewer diners and lower sales, overall.
When it comes to browsing menus and payment methods, the restaurants adhering to stricter safety precautions are likely to see more diners come through their doors. 82% of diners are more willing to patronize restaurants that allow bill-pay through a mobile device and 80% of diners are more willing to patronize restaurants that use quick response codes for menu access on a smartphone.
According to survey results, 72% of diners disdain making reservations by calling the restaurant. Many prefer to make reservations in quicker, more convenient ways. In fact, 28% of diners prefer to make reservations by texting the restaurant. Typically the restaurant will also text the diner a reservation reminder, ensuring that we don’t miss the reservation time slots we fought so hard for.
Opting in to texts from restaurants usually comes with its fair share of perks including mobile coupons, giveaways, access to weekly specials, and notifications about limited-time menus – enticing opportunities that many diners aren’t willing to pass up. 71% of diners surveyed are likely to sign up for a restaurant’s text message loyalty program and over half of diners currently receive promotional text messages from 2-3 restaurants.
Other perks include the added convenience of being texted when your table is ready. Over 40% of diners prefer to be notified by text when their table is ready. Unlike with beepers or pagers, texting lets diners roam the area freely until they’re able to be seated.
Likewise, 51% of diners say that “long wait times” is the most frustrating aspect of curbside pickup and sometimes it’s not clear when orders are ready. Restaurants can eliminate customer confusion and streamline their operations by texting customers the moment their order is ready.
Other note-worthy insights:
In terms of the industry as a whole, year-over-year seated diners in U.S.restaurants (between 2019 and 2020) decreased by 60.4% on average over a ten-month period. December 2020 even saw a 64.6% drop.
With an average change hovering around -41%, the months of September and October 2020 saw the largest recovery of seated diners in U.S. restaurants – specifically, September 6, during Labor Day weekend, which saw a year-over-year decrease in seated diners of only 14%.
Due to incompatible phases of re-opening and closing, restaurants within some U.S. states were hit harder than others. Hawaii, DC, New York, Washington, and Illinois saw the largest drops in seated diners at restaurants between 2019 & 2020, while Rhode Island, Connecticut, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Alabama saw the smallest drops in seated diners.
At the city level, San Francisco, Honolulu, New York City, Seattle, and Los Angeles saw the largest drops in seated diners at restaurants between 2019 & 2020, while Naples, FL, Tampa, FL, and Scottsdale, AZ saw the smallest drops in seated diners.
That wraps up our study about dining preferences, texting with restaurants, and the state of the restaurant industry as a whole. Thousands of restaurants nationwide are realizing how powerful SMS marketing can be for engaging their customers with both transactional and promotional text messaging.
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